I miss the ‘old’ internet, the one I grew up with. No, I don’t miss the weird modem dial up noise but I miss what it meant, to me at least.
There’s a lot of speculation at the moment on the consequences of our internet use: non-stop connectedness, commenting culture, trolling. And now the waves of hate that have rippled offline and translated into real live murders. It’s not the first time offline and online have violently collided, but something about the Isla Vista shooting seems different. Maybe it’s the links with PUA culture. Maybe it’s the long trail of online evidence showing the extent of Rogers’ alienation from the world around him. Honestly, my respect to the victim’s families, but I don’t have anything to add; it has already been said. Instead, I thought I’d talk about a different side of the internet.
A lot has changed since then, but I grew up with an amateur internet. Sure, ebay and Amazon existed, but great swathes of the net were beyond the reach of business. Google was not even a publicly traded company. My early internet exploits were a tad geeky but I don’t mind admitting that; Nerd Chic is all the rage now. Now hand me those black frame hipster glasses and I’ll tell you about the internet I used to know.
To me, it was just a bunch of people connecting over what they enjoyed and figuring out the whole thing as they went along. I used to write, mostly fanfiction or blogging, post things on DeviantArt and talk to people on LiveJournal. For those of us who grew up with it, the early results of the internet were all about fun, not monetisation. It was a safe space, where we were free from the judgement of the ‘real world’. Some of those early content creators (as we like to call them now) have gone on to become big names on YouTube and the blogging sphere. That was only a matter of time, and that democratisation of entertainment has been one of the biggest successes of the internet to date.
Having your own way of talking will always be important when you’re growing up; whether it’s Snapchat or MSN Messenger. I even remember using a shared Word doc circa 2003 to message my friend in the school library. One of us would open the doc, write a message and save it, then the other would open it and do the same. It was completely pointless as we had phones, but it was our method of communication, our thing, which was what mattered.
The part that really stands out for me, is how we used to talk to each other. Not exclusively, but mostly, we were nice to each other. These days, it’s often the adolescent who gets a bad rap online; we marginalise the disturbing, hateful language we see in the comment box by attributing it to spotty little teenagers in their bedrooms. That’s funny, because I remember being a teenager and talking in a very different way online. The same way that almost everyone else I encountered talked.
I went back recently and read some of the reviews that people left on my old writing. This is how I remember complete strangers talking to me back then:
Pretty vacuous, yes. Vicious trolling? Not so much.
Can’t miss it ’til it’s gone.
I’d encourage you to do the same: spend some time visiting the sites you used to visit, if you have old internet haunts go check in with them. Even if half of it is offline nowadays, you might still be able to view it courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
We take it all for granted now: not just our right to say whatever we want on every corner of the internet, but the fact that we can get to every corner of the internet. We need to remember that it might not always be that way.
Whether the unregulated chaos of the net will be deemed too much for us to handle, or perhaps because Big Business will step in and have its way on the issue of Net Neutrality. While we in the UK seem to be safe for now- an EU law recently passed which will keep all data ‘equal’ and accessible in the eyes of ISPs- it might be a very different story in the US if the new FCC ruling passes.
For better or worse, the old internet is dead. It’s time to think about what we want the future of the internet to look like.